Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My Top 10: 2002

Ibetolis of the brilliant Film for the Soul has added another fun feature to his massive "Counting Down the Zeroes" project. It's simple: just click the links above or go here to "My Top 10" on the man's blog and submit your top 10 list.

Late last month I pointed you all towards the above links in hopes that you would submit your top 10 lists on Ibetolis' blog. Well, he's wrapped-up another successful year in 2002, and as we head into 2003 he;s once again asking all of us to submit our top 10 lists. Click here and submit your list in the comments section and Ibetolis will archive it on the Top 10 blog. Onto the list...

Looking at my list of films 2002 was another American-heavy year on my list. It was also a year that had two great films by Spielberg (perhaps the most unfairly scrutinized filmmaker in a long while...being popular gets you hated I guess), and contributions to the list from great filmmakers like: Paul Schrader, Paul Thomas Anderson, Spike Jonze, Steven Soderbergh, and Martin Scorsese. Not too shabby.

The best film of the year for me was Paul Schrader's masterful biopic about the sex-obsessed life of Hogan's Heroes star Bob Crane, Auto Focus. It reminded me of some of the best work the man has previously done in his career: American Gigolo, Taxi Driver (as a screenwriter), Affliction, and Bringing Out the Dead (again as a screenwriter). I have always been fascinated by Schrader's own obsession with themes about men who are so narrow minded and controlled by their desires that they spiral out of control. Their slavish duties to their personal yens create fantastically interesting cinema, and Schrader is among the best in the biz at showcasing these kinds of male-centric stories. Auto Focus is perhaps Schrader's greats film as a director.

Spielberg pops up twice on the list -- perhaps the first and only time a director has appeared twice on a best of list -- first is Minority Report, a brilliant neo-noir that has some of the most beautiful shots I've seen in any noir picture. It's a fantastic ride, and the story unfolds at a brisk clip, and actually makes a lot of sense. Adapted from the Philip K. Dick novel, it rivals another Dick adaptation, Blade Runner, as being one of the best noir/sci-fi hybrids ever made. The other Spielberg on the list is his super-fun, and super-glossy Catch Me if You Can. An infectiously fun film with some great performances by Leonardo DiCaprio (who like Spielberg had two great films released in 2002, the other being Scorsese's Gangs of New York) and Tom Hanks who enjoys playing the East Coast G-man out to get DiCaprio's con man. The chase is a lot of fun and reminded me of films like North by Northwest and Charade, other "thrillers" that were all about the relentlessness of a chase. Catch Me if You Can also has one of the most fantastic credit sequences I've seen in any film.

City of God and Russian Ark are the only foreign films to make the list this year. City of God reminded me of a Brazilian Goodfellas as it has every kind of post-production trick in the book brusquely pushing the viewer through relentless scene after relentless scene. It was definitely one of the more interesting films of the year, and showed an interesting, darker side of Rio. Russian Ark is famous of course for being one continuous shot. It finds its way on the list for the sheer audaciousness of such a feat...and the film isn't half bad, either.

Punch-Drunk Love at one time would have been tops on the list, but I find myself coming back to some of the other films more often than Paul Thomas Anderson's sweet and bizarre romantic comedy. Adam Sandler proves that there's something in there lurking...maybe not a great actor, but an interesting one; and Anderson always makes us interested in Sandler's Barry. He's an odd duck, but Sandler plays him as something more than just a misunderstood soul...there's nuances to the performance that just make you shake your head and think "what has Sandler been hiding from us all these years." It's about as dark, strange, and otherworldly a romantic comedy can get -- but those scenes in Hawaii -- let me tell ya: pure cinematic poetry.

Charlie Kaufman's best film Adaptation. was also, sadly, the last film Spike Jonze directed (until this years much anticipated Fall release of Where the Wild Things Are). This is also one of Nicolas Cage's best performance as twin Kaufman brothers who must write a screenplay for an adaptation of a popular book penned by Meryl Streep's character. The amazing thing about the film is not just about the astute commentary on all of the "how to" workshops offered in Hollywood (although, the scenes with Brian Cox are some of the funniest, and most pointed bits of satire I've seen), but as it progresses it evolves into a meta-film of monumental proportions. It's one of the best examples of Kaufman's obsession with postmodern cinema, and it's easily his finest work. Jonze has a lot of fun too turning the film into all of the cliches that Cage's character relies on to burst through his writers block.

Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven was a wonderfully constructed call back to the melodramas of Douglas Sirk. I cannot add anything that my friend Sam Juliano hasn't said better --- after all, he saw it 21 times in the theater! Click here to read his thoughts on the film. It's definitely one of the most beautiful looking films of the 2000's.

One of the biggest films of the year was also one of the most entertaining. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was the last time Harry and friends would be so innocent and squeaky clean. It has all of the fun elements of a film like The Wizard of Oz: meaning that it's both childish in delight and still contains a bit of bite with its darker elements. This is my favorite Potter picture as it was the last time any remnants of joy seeped through the darker elements of the story -- you know, before every Potter film became The Empire Strikes Back.

I always try to include one comedy on my list, and one of my favorite in all of the 2000's was Jake Kasdan's brilliantly funny Orange County. I am a lover of writing, and literature, so naturally the protagonist journey was one that was appealing to me. And when he finally gets to Stanford and meets his mentor, it's one of the warmest scenes of the year. Jack Black also proves with this film (and 2000's High Fidelity) that he's best used in small does. I'll never stop quoting the line: "I didn't go to college, and look at me, I'm kick ass."

Here's the list with the honorable mentions:

1.) Auto Focus (Paul Schrader)
2.) Minority Report (Steven Spielberg)
3.) City of God (Fernando Meirelles)
4.) Punch-Drunk Love (Paul Thomas Anderson)
5.) Adaptation. (Spike Jonze)
6.) Far From Heaven (Todd Haynes)
7.) Catch Me if You Can (Steven Spielberg)
8.) Russian Ark (Aleksandr Sokurov)
9.) Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Chris Columbus)
10.) Orange County (Jake Kasdan)

Honorable Mentions:

About a Boy, Changing Lanes, Femme Fatale, Gangs of New York, Solaris, Talk to Her, Whale Rider.


  1. The kid in me is glad to see Harry there, although The Sorceror's Stone and The Prisoner of Azkaban will always be my faves. I need to do a review of 2002.

  2. Thanks for stopping by! I love the third Potter film, too. It's a really close second to Chamber of Secrets.

  3. Yeah, the third POTTER film is excellent. Easily the best of the series so far. Nice to see you give ORANGE COUNTY a place in yer Top 10. I really like this one too. It has an easy-going vibe and is funny as hell as Jack Black seems to be channeling Belushi at times.

  4. What absolutely delightful person you are Kevin! I hope that one day, somehow I'll meet you. You are a peach. As always thanks for that flattering red-carpet treatment, mentioning my bizarre obsession with FAR FROM HEAVEN! Ha! I've never been able to convince a single person that 21 viewings was warranted, but I stopped trying. But I am thrilled to see it on your distinguished Top 10, along with some other stellar entries like CITY OF GOD, RUSSIAN ARK, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, AUTO FOCUS (now that an original #1 pick) and MINORITY REPORT.

    Of your "honorable mentions" Almodovar's TALK TO HER is one of my very best films of 2002, and both WHALE RIDER and GANGS OF NEW YORK do deserve special mention, (even if neither quite falls into the Top 10 labeling.)

    I do like PUNCH DRUNK LOVE, but I never was a fan of ADAPTATION. But your position here is definitely with the majority.

    What I love about your list is that you are not afraid to list films that affected you personally, instead of just "rubber stamping" films that may be widely-embraced.

    A wonderful, passionate presentation, and I look forward to sharing the cinematic glories of 2003 with you soon!

  5. J.D.:

    Glad to hear you like Orange County as well. It's an underrated comedy that a lot of people pass off as part of that too-crude-to-be-funny set of films that was being released at the time. It's actually a smartly written and warm hearted comedy.

    And yes, Black does indeed seem to be channeling Belushi in this...great insight.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Sam:

    Indeed...someday if I make it out to the East Coast (which I most definitely want to...I've always wanted to go to New York) we'll have to try and run into each other. Thanks for the great words about my list. I haven't Talk to Her since it was out in theaters, so it may very well find its way higher on the list should I see it again.

    I'm glad you appreciate the films that I put on these lists. I've never been one for "rubber stamping" as you put it, and I think as I get older and older I just want to watch the films that make me happy. And that can mean numerous things: art films that challenge the way I think, foreign films, or just commercial films that are really well made.

    Wait until 2005 roles around...I think you'll be pretty surprised by what my number one film is.

    Thanks as always for taking the time and commenting on the blog.

  7. I'm glad to see Talk to Her have an honourable mention. As for the presence Harry Potter and Minority Report, I guess you were saying to yourself that entertaining films can be brilliant in their own ways. Speaking of Minority Report, I was glad to see Spielberg combine film noir and science-fiction to insert depth. After all, not all sci-fi movies (I'm not a fan of this genre) are about explosions and visual effects.

    I haven't seen the rest of the film you mention, but I remembered that I fell asleep halfway through Gangs of New York back in High school.

  8. Anh Khoi Do:

    Thanks for stopping by. Yes, entertaining films can really be anything. I'm entertained by serious art house fair and by summer popcorn movies; if the movie is good and succeeds in both being aesthetically pleasing and have the narrative be interesting, then I will more than likely put it on a top 10 list. You're quite right about Minority Report, too.

    Thanks for the comments! (oh, and I kind of share your feelings on Gangs of New York, but recent viewings have kind of turned me around on it...especially the ending, which is beautifully shot and edited.)

  9. Well, now that I've been trying hard to look patient on my blog (with many films that I normally wouldn't watch), I guess that I'll try to watch Gangs of New York some day since it was recommended by many of my lads who study history with me.